Wednesday, May 26, 2010

First Among Equals: The Drifters: "Save The Last Dance For Me"

There is something to be said for freedom and generosity - not just in political terms (when last I wrote here, did anyone expect the election to bring a sharing of power?), but of the heart as well. Popular music is popular in part because it expresses (like all arts) things that maybe are too extreme or hapless or abject to say in person. And since love is the main topic of songs period, a great deal of insecurity and nervousness and, yes, possessiveness comes into music, for better and also for worse.

This song is unique in that the man is utterly sure and happy and generous with his girl; she can be held tightly by someone else, she can stand in the pale moonlight, she can look a man who gives her the eye right back.

She can do all these things because he knows (and she knows) that their love is safe and secure, that he is taking her home - indeed in Ben E. King's satisfied "hmmmms" you can tell that what they have is special and that their relationship is one of equals. I cannot ignore that we are still (only just) in 1960 and that true equality hasn't really arrived yet, but I don't get the sense that there is any patronizing or condescending attitude here - 'little girl you can do what you like' is one way of looking at this, but the confident cha-cha asserts there is more going on here than that. (And indeed, there was - Doc Pomus, who wrote the song with Mort Shuman, had polio and couldn't dance; the song was for his wife, who liked to go out and dance.) So this is a song of love and in part dependence, of longing and freedom and understanding. I can see him saying these things to her as she puts on her shoes and does her makeup, just as I can see her coming back, her feet a little tired and longing for him and his arms, where she ultimately belongs, after maybe not having such a great time. He rubs her feet and she sighs, happily.